Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Victoria’s Children, part 9: Beatrice—Dutiful Daughter or Half-crazed Visigoth?

Ha--I knew that would get your attention! And I’m not exaggerating too much, as you’ll see shortly. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Poor Victoria. The queen actually hadn’t wanted such a large family; but medical knowledge being what it was in the mid-19th century, her doctors gave her less-than-accurate advice on family planning. So it was more or less business as usual when her ninth and last child was born April 14, 1857…except that it wasn’t. She had discovered the blessings of chloroform with the birth of her previous child, Leopold, and was determined to utilize it again…which she did, to the continued grumbling of much of the medical establishment of the day.

Her pain-free birth may or may not have had something to do with it, but little Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore soon became a favorite with her parents, now that their elder children were marrying (Vicky married when Baby, as she was nicknamed, was nine months old). She was a pretty, lively child, and the Queen even overcame her usual dislike of infants in Beatrice’s case.

That pretty liveliness, however, was not destined to remain. The deaths of both the Queen’s mother and husband in 1861 plunged the Queen into gloom, and levity was not welcomed in her household. Gradually, Beatrice’s bright personality and intelligence were worn down, until by her teens, she had become very shy and almost tongue-tied in public and her natural grace dulled. Victoria’s older daughters had, one by one, escaped into marriage, but if the Queen had any say in the matter, Beatrice would not: she would remain at her mother’s side, serving as her personal secretary and companion for the rest of her life.

And so matters continued until 1884. Though Victoria assured everyone that Beatrice was quite content to remain “the daughter of the house”, there had been thoughts of marrying her off, possibly to Louis of Hesse, her late sister’s Alice’s widower. Finding a groom for Beatrice did not appear to be an easy prospect: she was chunky, awkward and gauche in public, and just not very attractive. But at a family wedding in that fateful year, Beatrice fell in love. Her choice was Prince Henry of Battenburg, a minor German princeling. In many ways, he was the perfect choice: he was more or less penniless and landless, and could therefore quite easily move to England and become Beatrice’s husband, rather than her leaving England to become his wife. So after six months of the Silent Treatment (quite literally!) on the Queen’s part, promises were extracted from Henry (nicknamed “Liko”) and Beatrice that they would always live with her, and the pair were allowed to marry in 1885.

Remain with the Queen they did: even after the arrival of four children (Alexander in 1886, Victoria Eugenie—called Ena— in 1887, Leopold in 1889, and Maurice in 1891—the Queen’s 40th and final grandchild) the family followed the Queen on her yearly peregrinations among her residences, while Beatrice continued as her mother’s right hand. The lively “Battenbunnies” helped keep the Queen young for a time; not since the Prince Consort’s death had there been such sunshine in her life. But clouds would soon re-gather: though Beatrice adored him, her Liko eventually chafed under his enforced status as house-husband, and in 1895 got permission to join the British Army to fight in Africa in the Ashanti wars. To everyone’s horror, he contracted malaria and died while en route home.

Poor Beatrice was, of course, devastated, but her aging mother needed her more than ever, not to mention her young family. Though not a very maternal or demonstrative mother, she was, above all, dutiful, and so life continued until 1901..and the real center of Beatrice’s life, her mother, died.

You have to feel sorry for her—for the Queen had occupied almost all of her attention, all her life. And in death, she continued to do so, for Beatrice was named one of the executors of her will and, more importantly, had been requested by the Queen to edit her papers, most notably the diaries she’d kept since 1831 and her private letters. And here’s where the Visigoth part comes in, for edit Beatrice did: by the time she was done copying out what seemed appropriate to her to keep, Beatrice deleted fully two-thirds of the Queen’s diaries and letters...and burned the originals, to the horror of King George and Queen Mary and to generations of historians ever since. Imagine what was lost to history!

The rest of Beatrice’s life remained uneventful, though dramas occurred—the disastrous marriage of her daughter Ena to the last king of Spain and the death of her son Maurice in World War I. She unveiled monuments to her mother’s memory and dabbled in good works (though not to the degree that her sisters Lenchen and Louise did), and lived until 1944…and thus ended an era.

Coming soon, we'll take a look at some of the more interesting of the Queen's forty grandchildren...stay tuned!


Rachel said...

LOL I read this post yesterday. Your title made me laugh ;)

It is quite a shame that she edited so much. I think the Duchess of Devonshire's papers are the same way.

Some Victorians took to 'sweeping things under the carpet' to the extreme. Scandals? No, thank you!

Marissa Doyle said...

It's an interesting question, isn't it--how much posthumous privacy does a very public person like the queen get?